top of page

Biography of Marco Besso

Marco Besso.JPG

Marco Besso, scholar and bibliophile, clearly emerges from the presentation he himself makes of Riccardo De Bury's Philobiblon, a work he offered in 1914 in Trieste, his hometown:

I love to present to the Italian public, in the following pages, the nestor of bibliophiles, the author of the oldest treatise on bibliophilia, which has come down to us. This is Richard de Bury, Chancellor of Edward the Third and bishop of Durham, the most famous of the ancient episcopal see of England. There, in the last years of his life, de Bury wrote the treatise of which, closing the prologue, he says: Placuit nobis more veterum Latinorum Braeco vocabulo Philobiblon Amabiliter nuncupare. I felt encouraged and almost authorized to this presentation, not because I think I measure myself against such a conspicuous character, nor because I believe myself to be up to the office, but because I feel I have intense and constant love with de Bury in common. of the book, love that accompanies me, as it accompanied him from dawn to dusk of life; because I too, in my long and semisecular wanderings, within and outside the borders of my country, always had the first and greatest care for the sarcinualae librorum that have followed me everywhere. This spiritual company of mine varied according to the development of my career and my mentality, and according to the direction of my studies, which to a certain extent were linked to it, but it always grew, with the growth of the means that were at my disposal. . Certainly my bibliographical baggage was less orthodox than those of de Bury, and the philosophers, whose writings I delighted in, were not his; but the mentality of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is not that of the outgoing Middle Ages. I preferred Rousseau's Confessions to St. Augustine's Confessions, I preferred Voltaire's philosophical dictionary to Polychrome, and Giuseppe Mazzini's writings to the Holy Fathers. But if the mentality was different and the readings were different, I confess candidly, as Bishop Dunelmense confessed, that I too, like him, have always and tirelessly desired books: visui dum legiter, auditui dum auditur, amplius et tactui …. And, like him, the more I desired and desire the book, the more difficult it is to obtain it; even if, and not once, the disappointment followed possession closely. But I have always desired them, because in every way, as Petrarch admonishes in the letter to Giacomo Colonna, they are always our docile and obedient servants. Then, either because of my more modest condition, which did not allow me, as in de Bury, to obesse et prodesse, officere et proficere vehementer, and because of the lesser difficulties that are encountered now to satisfy these desires, and finally, because we now have a a more refined and more scrupulous moral sense, I do not feel either I have to do it or deserve the reproaches that were made to de Bury: miro tamen modo obnoxios nos effecit iudiciis plurimorum, for the excess of his for the same reason he inflicted on himself: quin fuerint forsan nobis when occasionio alicuius negligentiae venialis! Therefore I do not need - at least for this title - to recommend my soul to the suffrages of the disciples, or to the intercession of patron saints. Instead, I love to recommend myself, while still alive, for the indulgence of the living! And I will say again, before closing, that in common with de Bury I also have the desire, and firm resolution, that my collections, as he wanted his own, be kept and preserved for the benefit and benefit of future generations, forming the wish, that the meekness of the times will allow my purposes what de Bury was not allowed: that is, to become a living and perennial reality. "

from the Besso Library, Rome 2 December 1913,

Fiftieth anniversary of my arrival in the Eternal City Marco Besso


Marco Besso was born in Trieste on 9 September 1843 to Salvatore and Regina Cusin. The Bessos, Jews, with ancestors of Spanish origin, in the early nineteenth century, moved to Trieste, from Arta in Epirus, to expand their trading activities.

The serious economic crisis, following the Crimean War (1853-1856), involves Marco's family who, just sixteen, interrupted his studies and started working for an insurance company, first in Ljubljana, then in Innsbruck. Revealing resourcefulness, he promotes fire insurance among farmers and simultaneously attends university courses in German.
In 1863, in his twenties, who had been employed by Assicurazioni Generali, he successfully completed the difficult negotiation of the takeover of the Privileged Pontifical Insurance Company in Rome.

He is fascinated by the city of Rome " his adopted homeland ". Deeply tied to the ideals and protagonists of our Risorgimento, he actively participates in political life: he joins the Roman National Committee and the editorial staff of the clandestine newspaper Roma dei Romi . In 1875 he received the medal in the Campidoglio for the meritorious of the liberation of Rome.
For his undeniable organizational skills and spirit of initiative, Generali entrusted him with the management of numerous agencies in Italy: Milan, Palermo, Bologna, Florence and Trieste.
In 1874 in Florence he married Ernesta, daughter of Isacco Pesaro Maurogonato, patriot and senator of the Kingdom of Italy, with whom he had four children: Lia (1875-1947), who married Alberto Lumbroso, Salvatore (1877-1882). ), Iso (1880-1882), who died at the age of five and two, and finally Salvatore (1884-1912), writer, journalist, special correspondent for the newspaper La Tribuna and a great travel enthusiast. Marco, sharing his life choices, writes to his son, in Siam for the coronation of King Rama VI, ".. This cinema that you have obtained with your travels enables you to see that humanity is a varied whole. in detail, but unique as an organism and that racial prejudices and religious intolerances do not have an organic and permanent reason for being… Your father ”. (Salvatore Besso Archive, Corr. Fam .: letter 20.12.1911, exhibited in the museum area).
Marco, for Generali, studies the development possibilities of the transport branch and, above all, carries out research on life insurance and related actuarial techniques. His original insights led him to be appointed a member of the London Actuaries Institute. It also deals with the development of social insurance, receiving the task, from the Italian government, of drafting the law for the legal recognition of mutual aid companies. In 1885, Assicurazioni Generali, under his leadership as director and technical consultant, and thanks to the winning idea ".. so I wanted, I say, that Assicurazioni Generali chose the most conspicuous positions in our major cities to build their own offices .." . (Autobiography, 1925 p. 118-119) have a growing territorial diffusion also abroad, especially in Austria and Hungary.
Marco Besso, who settled permanently in Rome, bought the former Palazzo Strozzi from the Bank of Italy in 1905, in the current Largo di Torre Argentina and adapted the first floor to his home, thus realizing the dream of his life "... that I always had books with me, even in wandering years ... but I can add without exaggeration that up to a certain time my wardrobe baggage consisted of books ... Owning a proper library, mine, in my house, that's it the dream of my whole life .. ". (Autobiography, 1925 p. 155). In 1909 he was appointed President of Assicurazioni Generali, for which he managed to obtain the certificate of Italian nationality from the Presidency of the Council of Ministers in 1916. Marco Besso has a wide and articulated working sphere, not only linked to the world of insurance: he is involved in the Italian and European financial and industrial life with positions as president, director of banks and companies, especially in the field of electricity and transport companies. His publications are numerous: he writes fundamental texts for the development of the insurance sector and commercial legislation ( Di una lacuna in the draft Code of Commerce, 1882). His lecture, Social security in the Risorgimento , at the Roman College, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of Rome as capital, is published, at the behest of the President of the Accademia dei Lincei, in the volume: Fifty years of Italian history (1860-1910 ), 1911 ".. it seemed appropriate to me to do a job in the social economic field .., proposing to compare the great dates of the Risorgimento, 1848, 1859 and 1870 with those of the social security institutions which, due to a not entirely fortuitous coincidence originated in the same years… ". (Autobiography, 1925 p. 182). His "literary works" , as he defines them, are intertwined with the formation of his Library ".. each of my publications is linked to one of the sections of the Library and I do not know if the collections that led me to form the books, or whether it was the preparation of these ". (Autobiography, 1925 p. 157). Dedicates Rome and the pope in proverbs and idioms (1904) to Rome. The editing of this work gives rise to the Roman and paremiological sections of the library. With Dante's La Fortuna fuori d'Italia (1912), searching for all the translations of the Divine Comedy, he managed to create one of Dante's private collections, still today, the most precious in Italy. The great devotion to the great poet leads him to support the Dante Alighieri Society as well, created to protect and disseminate the Italian language and culture. In 1914 he dedicated the Philobiblon of Riccardo de Bury to Trieste and, in 1918, the Encomium morias of Erasmus of Rotterdam in Venice. Besso was appointed in 1912 Corresponding Member of the Royal Veneto Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts and in 1920 a member of the Royal National Academy of the Lincei.
In 1918 he established the Marco Besso Foundation whose aims are clearly summarized in the first three phases of its Statute: "Increase of the national economy, Moral and social improvement of the working and middle classes, Diffusion of general culture" , and opens the Library to the public . "... and finally I established, with wider purposes and with means that I hope will not be inadequate, the Foundation to which I wanted to give my name and my house, as I have assured my library and my collections, since it was right and It is legitimate that the city that kindly welcomed me very young and that was my second homeland had a lasting memory of me and enjoyed the fruits of my work .. " . ( Autobiography , 1925 p.190-191). He died on 7 October 1920. The biography of Marco Besso, a man of a thousand interests, with a rare balance between respect for traditions and a spirit of innovation, architect of financial structures, promoter of laws in favor of the working classes and generous patron can be concluded with one of his maxims, highlighted by Luigi Rava in the introduction of Marco Besso's Autobiography published posthumously, by the Foundation, in 1925.

"... The best satisfaction you can feel when you reach the sunset of existence will not lie in enumerating and thinking about what you may have accumulated in wealth, honors, titles, but what you can offer to the community in return for what it gives you he has given since you came into the world ”. ( Autobiography , 1925 p. XVII).

bottom of page